Ranji Trophy: Bhatt, Merai script Gujarat riposte

Bhargav Merai (74, 130b, 8x4) and Rujul Bhatt (82 batting, 220b, 8x4) stitched together a 134-run third-wicket partnership to deny Karnataka.

Rujul Bhatt, known as Gujarat’s crisis man, mostly nudged and pushed his way to record his highest score of the season.   -  N. Sudarshan

Gujarat came up with a first-rate rearguard action to halt Karnataka’s charge on day three of the Ranji Trophy match at the Lalbhai Contractor Stadium here on Sunday.

After conceding a 173-run first-innings lead, Gujarat, with more than five sessions to survive, looked down and out, especially when it lost both openers, including Priyank Panchal, with just six second innings runs scored.

But Bhargav Merai (74, 130b, 8x4) and Rujul Bhatt (82 batting, 220b, 8x4) stitched together a 134-run third-wicket partnership to deny Karnataka.

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The host, which now leads by 14 runs, isn’t out of the woods yet, but has given itself a fighting chance after being in a near hopeless situation.

It may be true that the pitch did not quite break up the way it was expected to. There was turn for the spinners, but it was slow, giving the batsmen a little more time. But where teams often crumble under scoreboard pressure, Gujarat didn’t.

The 213-minute vigil between Merai and Bhatt was an exercise in self-denial. Merai in particular didn’t indulge in anything risky on the off side till the very end when he was caught behind off a full wide delivery from Ronit More.

However he was quick to feast on the leg side whenever the Karnataka bowlers erred, with the two pulls in front of square off seamer Prateek Jain his standout shots.

Bhatt, known as Gujarat’s crisis man, mostly nudged and pushed his way to record his highest score of the season. The closest he came to being dismissed was just after tea, when Karnataka skipper Vinay Kumar tossed the ball to part-timer R. Samarth.

Bhatt almost fell for the ploy, but his cut went between the wicket-keeper and first slip fielder. The plucky 32-year-old even battled cramps late on, yet soldiered ahead.

Earlier in the morning, Karnataka added 41 runs to its overnight total of 348, with Vinay notching up a half-century (51, 99b, 5x4, 1x6).

Then his bowlers provided a dream start; Jain trapped Kathan Patel in front with a superb inswinger for a first-ball duck while offie K. Gowtham accounted for Panchal. For the rest of the day though it was a different story.

Brief Scores:

At Surat: Gujarat 216 & 187 for three in 69 overs (Bhargav Merai 74, Rujul Bhatt 82 batting) vs. Karnataka 389 in 121 overs (Devdutt Padikkal 74, Shreyas Gopal 93, Srinivas Sharath 47, R. Vinay Kumar 51, Piyush Chawla  four for 99).